As he prepared the release of his newest album, A Vintage Love Supreme, Devine Carama wasn't especially concerned with how many copies wound up in the hands of his fans. He was more interested in how his fanbase acquired his music in the first place.
That triggered the idea for the Lexington-based hip-hop artist's Community Service Project. Carama's plan was for eager fans to pay forward in a strictly non-monetary way. Instead of slapping a price tag on the record, he required "some sort of community service," which would subsequently be chronicled in an online posting. In essence, he was asking for a good deed.
"I was a little wary about how people would respond to that, especially in these days of social media," he says. "But the response has been good. I mean, my whole thing is I'm tired of the negativity not just within the hip-hop community, but also everywhere. When I get on my timeline on Facebook, it's fight videos, it's the Kim Davis thing, it's the story about the state trooper getting murdered. The news cycle is filled with nothing but negativity.
"I wanted to get this thing to be kind of like the Ice Bucket Challenge. That way, even if people aren't as engaged in giving back as I am, maybe they'll do it because it's popular. In that way, you can still inspire people so they can inspire others once they get into it."
Focusing on community-related projects as the primary financial beneficiary of his music is nothing new for Carama. His recordings, which continually stress positive themes of family and home ("the other side of hip hop," as he terms it), have helped benefit numerous charities as well as Carama's own non-profit children's organization, Believing in Forever. He wanted his promotion for A Vintage Love Supreme to be an extension of that thinking.
"I'm getting to an age (34) where I'm no longer trying to be the king of the game," he says. "Now, it's like, 'What am I going to do with this?'
"My reach may be minimal compared to some superstars in the game, but it's also bigger than some indie artists. So what am I going to do with that platform? I was thinking for months about how I was going to do this. The last two projects I did, I donated the proceeds to charity or a non-profit. That's cool, but it's pretty conventional. It's not shaking anything up. I wanted to do something that would encourage other people to act."
Carama's game plan also mirrors his business sense. An independent artist in the strictest sense of the term, he works without the aid of record labels, promotional teams or grant subsidies. He said such personal investment in one's own work would serve younger hip-hop artists well.
"A lot of these artists think they can go into their little homemade studio in their closet, get a free SoundCloud page, post a song and expect fame to come," Carama says. "You have to get out there. Some of these artists may have a trendier sound than me. It may be more negative and more popping. But if they had my work ethic, they would have blown up by now. Talent alone is not what is going to make it today."
Carama plans to make a push on his Community Service Project through the end of the year with focus placed on presentations to high school and college students throughout the state. Locally, he will celebrate the release of A Vintage Love Supreme at tonight's edition of Brown Sugar, the live hip-hop showcase Carama has been presenting on a monthly basis at Al's Bar. The record's producer, Quay Bailey (known professionally as DJ Well Blended) will lead the guest list.
"I had limited response from the hip-hop community and even from some of my fans when I first put this initiative out there. But I think people understand now they are being challenged," he says. "Once we started getting a little media coverage and people outside of my normal base started to support it, everything just took off.
"I've already got 40 stories ready to post. I think I've posted 11 of them where people have worked with Habitat for Humanity or something like that. What I'm encouraging people to do is share the experience, not necessarily as a way to boast but to encourage other people. So I'm blessed with the response so far."